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CHAPTER III

Being a king he had authority to ask questions. Conn asked her, therefore, all the questions that he could think of, for it is not every day that a lady drives from the sea, and she wearing a golden-fringed cloak of green silk through which a red satin smock peeped at the openings. She replied to his questions, but she did not tell him all the truth; for, indeed, she could not afford to.

She knew who he was, for she retained some of the powers proper to the worlds she had left, and as he looked on her soft yellow hair and on her thin red lips, Conn recognised, as all men do, that one who is lovely must also be good, and so he did not frame any inquiry on that count; for everything is forgotten in the presence of a pretty woman, and a magician can be bewitched also.

She told Conn that the fame of his son Art had reached even the Many-Coloured Land, and that she had fallen in love with the boy. This did not seem unreasonable to one who had himself ventured much in Faery, and who had known so many of the people of that world leave their own land for the love of a mortal.

"What is your name, my sweet lady?" said the king.

"I am called Delvcaem (Fair Shape) and I am the daughter of Morgan," she replied.

"I have heard much of Morgan," said the king. "He is a very great magician."

During this conversation Conn had been regarding her with the minute freedom which is right only in a king. At what precise instant he forgot his dead consort we do not know, but it is certain that at this moment his mind was no longer burdened with that dear and lovely memory. His voice was melancholy when he spoke again.

"You love my son!"

"Who could avoid loving him?" she murmured.

"When a woman speaks to a man about the love she feels for another man she is not liked. And," he continued, "when she speaks to a man who has no wife of his own about her love for another man then she is disliked."

"I would not be disliked by you," Becuma murmured.

"Nevertheless," said he regally, "I will not come between a woman and her choice."

"I did not know you lacked a wife," said Becuma, but indeed she did.

"You know it now," the king replied sternly.

"What shall I do?" she inquired, "am I to wed you or your son?"

"You must choose," Conn answered.

"If you allow me to choose it means that you do not want me very badly," said she with a smile.

"Then I will not allow you to choose," cried the king, "and it is with myself you shall marry."

He took her hand in his and kissed it.

"Lovely is this pale thin hand. Lovely is the slender foot that I see in a small bronze shoe," said the king.

After a suitable time she continued:

"I should not like your son to be at Tara when I am there, or for a year afterwards, for I do not wish to meet him until I have forgotten him and have come to know you well."

"I do not wish to banish my son," the king protested.

"It would not really be a banishment," she said. "A prince's duty could be set him, and in such an absence he would improve his knowledge both of Ireland and of men. Further," she continued with downcast eyes, "when you remember the reason that brought me here you will see that his presence would be an embarrassment to us both, and my presence would be unpleasant to him if he remembers his mother."

"Nevertheless," said Conn stubbornly, "I do not wish to banish my son; it is awkward and unnecessary."

"For a year only," she pleaded.

"It is yet," he continued thoughtfully, "a reasonable reason that you give and I will do what you ask, but by my hand and word I don't like doing it."

They set out then briskly and joyfully on the homeward journey, and in due time they reached Tara of the Kings.



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Map of Ireland